Are my Italian-American coworkers' pronunciations authentic, or bastardized?

I have two coworkers of some Italian ancestry (one full, the other half.) They frequently talk about the Italian foods they and their families make at home, and in doing so they use what seem to me some pretty bizarre pronunciations. The trend in general seems to involve mainly dropping the last syllable of a word, and also slurring vowel sounds together and softening voiceless consonants into voiced ones (for example, t becomes more like d, p more like b, etc.)

Some examples:
prosciutto = bruh-ZHOOD
antipasto = ahnt-suh-PAHS
sopressata = SOOP-er-sahd
mozzarella = mahtz-(uh)ELL (the second syllable is kind of slurred into the third)
and of course, the infamous gah-buh-GOOL for capicola.

Yesterday, I just learned a new one: broc-uh-RAHB for broccoli rabe. I know I’ve heard a weird one for ricotta too, but I can’t remember it. ruh-GOAD or something like that.

They think that these are the “real” Italian pronunciations, that they’re wordly-wise cosmopolitans for using them, and that I’m uncultured and provincial for saying pruh-SHOOT-o. I’m skeptical, however, seeing as how their families have been in America for generations and they don’t actually speak any Italian. I tend to think that the pronunciations have been corrupted in a game of generational whisper-down-the-lane.

Can anyone knowledgable in Italian weigh on how right or wrong they are?

The Italian versions in different dialects are much more inlike the spellings. i.e., The americanized Italian is closer to what your English speaking ear expects.

If you heard various dialects of Italian, you would be much more hard pressed to figure out what word was being spoken.


The “Italian language” is really a set of fairly distinct dialects with varying degrees of mutual comprehensability (plus a more-or-less artificial standard of Italian for education and for national media, cf. RP English in the UK and “announcerspeak” in the U.S.). These dialects vary much more than, say, the speech of a rural Alabaman and a New Englander.

The pronunciations in the OP are highly likely to be reasonably close to Sicilian or Southern Italian pronunciations. These dialects commonly (a) drop or change the standard Italian vowels, and ( b)voice some of the standard Italian consonants.

The Wikipedia article is a good intro to the topic.

Further: A little perusal of the Wikipedia article I linked revealed that standard Italian has influenced the speech of the younger generations across Italy. Some of the distinct features of the regional dialects are slowly dying out, it seems. So you co-workers pronunciations may end up being somewhat frozen in time after another generation or so.

prosciutto = bruh-ZHOOD You would get funny looks around here saying pruh-SHOOT-o. I always hear bruh-ZHOOD. Excellent phonetic spelling by the way.
antipasto = ahnt-suh-PAHS I often hear ahnt-suh-PAHS-ta
sopressata = SOOP-er-sahd I do not hear this one much, so I do not know.
mozzarella = mahtz-(uh)ELL (the second syllable is kind of slurred into the third) I often hear a light r in front of the ELL. I hear plenty of people say it as spelled however. I think mozzarella is very mainstream and the old NY-Italian pronunciation is loosing use.
capicola = gah-buh-GOOL I am Italian and I did not know how to spell capicola until I was an adult. I never heard anything except gah-buh-GOOL.

I am not sure what is ‘correct’, but your friends appear to be using the same sounds that I grew up with in NYC & NJ.


The pronunciations listed in the OP are what I think of as “southern Italian/Sicilian by way of NY/NJ/Philly.” If you go to the Italian Market in South Philly, that’s what you’re going to hear. The shortening of broccoli rabe is not one I’ve heard, though.

Tarantella. I hear Dean Martin pronouncing it like ‘tair-an-della’. Sicilianism?
Pasta e Fagioli. Normally I hear it as ‘pahsta-fa-ZOOL’. Is there anyplace in Italy where it’s pronounced ‘pahsta-ee-fa-gee-OH-lee’?

Having lived for several years in Sicily, and coming from an Italian family myself, I can attest to the role of dialects here. In fact, there is another dialect hinted at in the Godfather movies that I used to hear quite a bit among my grandfather’s contemporaries, where Neapolitan or Sicilian dialect was sprinkled with English phrases, imprecations, and curses.

You can read these words in the classical Italian pronunciation, but that will get you lots of stares in Italy and Jersey both.

Oh, here is an example, to give some idea of the confusion:

Many Italian Americans refer to non-Italian things as ‘metti-ghan’. For example, if you put swiss cheese on what looks like an Italian sub/hoagie, an Italian American might refer to this move as ‘metti-ghan’…or call you a ‘metti-ghan’.

99% of Italian Americans don’t even know that the word they are bastardizing is “American”.

Follow the breakdown: A-mer-i-can. Remember to use the long ‘e’ for the i.

Break it down further: A-met-i-ghan. Many Italian dialects will take an "r’ and harden it by making what could be interpreted as a ‘t’ sound. Also, as you have probably noticed by now, a C (k sound) will soften into a gh sound.

So, A-mer-i-can is broken down so far, into ametti-ghan, or simply metti-ghan, that Italian Amercins – 'cept for me of course :slight_smile: – don’t even know they are saying ‘‘American’’.

Capish? No? A- feh-Naples!

Seconded on the Sicilian. When my partner starts talking food, that’s what he sounds like, and he is of Sicilian ancestry.

I was in Northern Italy ( around Milano ) and they seem to respect the classic pronounciation, almost identically to the spelling.They tend to loose the last letter of the word, like : mozzarel and proshoot.
But in Sicily, they talk really different from the North, and it is almost like they talk in the “The Sopranos” series, but not quite.You understand what the Sicilians reffer to, but when I see in the movies, Italian-Americans reffering to Italian food, it is hard to understand.

Must be. I got a friend from Naples, who came over when he was 18 or 19, and while he has picked up a bit of that Italian-American accent, his pronunciation for Italian foods sounds absolutely nothing like the pronunciations in the OP.

I spent several years in northern Italy, and became fairly proficient in Vicentino, which is the dialect of the region around Padova towards Venezia.

In that region the dialect is much much closer to ‘standard’ Italian.

I did date several Southern Italian women - one from Sardinia and one from Bari (not at the same time, though :smiley: ) and both of their native pronunciations were much closer to the above mentioned ones.

I should note that neither ever had a problem communicating with me at all, and could effortlessly switch from dialetto to standard Italian. While there was some change in sentence structure and grammar, most of the differences were in drastically different pronunciation and accenting, with a fair smattering of different vocabulary.

So it’s more of a dialect thing, with these pronunciations coming more from the Southern/Sicily regions, as opposed to “standard” Italian which would involve more enunciation? Would an upper-class Italian look down on someone who pronounced things this way, somewhat like an educated upper-class Northeastern American might look down on a Southern accent?

Did most of the Italian immigration to the US come from southern Italy?

I just remembered another one that stood out to me early on:
calamari = gah-luh-MAHD. Though I know the ‘d’ sound at the end is really just a flipped ‘r’.

Nearly all Italian immigration to the U.S. and elsewhere did come from the south. And the northern Italians did look down with considerable scorn upon southern Italians, and to a great extent still do.

Most wealth and industry in Italy was concentrated in the north, while in the late 19th and early 20th century the regions of Sicily, Calabria, Abruzzo, Naples and most of the rest of southern Italy basically had third world conditions. This created significant impetus for waves on immigration from the region, one of which brought my grandfather to America in 1915.

My mother’s family is Calabrese, and the pronunciations in the OP are fairly standard for what I’ve heard my whole life.

I’d like to include ajidibayb, for “acini de pepe”, the little square pasta bits. When I once pronounced the words on the box according to standard Italian (achini de pepay), my mother laughed at me!

Hey, is pasta fah-ZOOL one of these pronunciations? And is that supposed to stand for pasta fagioli or something else?

I grew up in a mixed Irish-Italian neighborhood in the Bronx. Many of my Italian friends and acquaintances were first generation, and most were from the vicinity of Naples. Their pronunciations (and those you would here in local restaurants and delis) were very similar to those in the OP.

Yes, pastafazool is the pronunciation I know from childhood for pasta e fagioli. It’s actually more like pastafazhool, with the "z’ being palatalized, which at least comes close to fitting at least one possible pronunciation of the “gi” construction.

Interesting. The dude I know tends to enunciate all the syllables, so prosciutto definitely has three syllables, mozzarella four, and so forth. Perhaps he has a more neutral Italian accent (the equivalent of, say, broadcast English). He’s from Naples proper, if that makes any difference.